The best international business jargon revealed

“Get all your ducks in a row.”

“It’s on my radar.”

“Going forward.”

“Touch base.”

“Close of play.”

If you’ve ever worked in an office in Australia, you’ve probably heard at least one of these examples of corporate jargon. They’re overused, banal and essentially meaningless, but they can also be fun to think about.

If you run out of Australian expressions, it turns out other countries have their own business jargon in their own languages. We spoke with representatives from 10 international chambers of commerce in the US who shared one or two of the most common expressions from their countries. These corporate idioms provide a window into the business culture and communication of nations around the world.

Indonesia

Phrase: “Asal bapak senang”

Literal translation: “Keeping Father happy”

Meaning: Hiding bad news from the boss; being a “yes-man”

Phrase: “Jam karet”

Translation: “Rubber time”

Meaning: Flexible timing or expected tardiness for meetings

Source: American Indonesian Chamber of Commerce

Belgium

Phrase: “Hij heeft zijn schaapjes op het droge”

Literal translation: “He has his sheep on dry land”

Meaning: He doesn’t need to worry – he has a lot of money

Phrase: “De kogel is door de kerk”

Translation: “The bullet is through the church”

Meaning: The decision has been made

Source: Belgian-American Chamber of Commerce

Brazil

Phrase: “Brilho no olho”

Literal translation: “Gleam in the eye”

Meaning: Dedication to work; great passion about what one does

Source: Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce

The Netherlands

Phrase: “Water naar de zee dragen”

Literal translation: “Carrying water to the sea”

Meaning: A futile activity

Source: Dutch American Chamber

France

Phrase: “Vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre”

Literal translation: “Wanting the butter and the butter’s money”

Meaning: Wanting to keep everything for oneself without leaving anything for others

Phrase: “Avoir du pain sur la planche“

Translation: “To have bread on the cutting board”

Meaning: We’ve got work to do

Source: French-American Chamber of Commerce

Germany

Phrase: “Die Milchmädchenrechnung”

Literal translation: “Milkmaid calculation”

Meaning: A naive calculation or reasoning

Phrase: “Jetzt‘s geht’s um die Wurst!”

Translation: “Now it is about the sausage!”

Meaning: The final stages of a project/the moment when it counts

Source: German American Chamber of Commerce

Greece

Phrase: “Του έψησε το ψάρι στα χείλη”

Literal translation: “He cooked the fish on his lips”

Meaning: He made his life difficult

Phrase: “πού πας ξυπόλητος στα αγκάθια”

Translation: “Where are you going, barefoot on thorn?”

Meaning: Why are you taking over such a hard task?

Source: Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce

Norway

Phrase: “Det gikk litt fort i svingene”

Literal translation: “The speed was too high in the turns”

Meaning: Making mistakes by rushing to get a task done

Source: Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce

Poland

Phrase: “Co ma piernik do wiatraka?”

Literal translation: “What does gingerbread have to do with a windmill?”

Meaning: What does one task have to do with another?

Phrase: “Łatwiej pałac skrytykować niż psu budę postawić”

Translation: “It’s easier to criticize a palace than to build a doghouse”

Meaning: It’s easier to criticise than to help build something small

Source: Polish American Chamber of Commerce

Sweden

Phrase: “Glida in på en räkmacka“

Literal translation: “Sliding in on a shrimp sandwich”

Meaning: To have things easy; to succeed without having to work hard

Phrase: “Peka med hela handen”

Translation: “Pointing with the whole hand”

Meaning: To forcefully instruct someone

Source: Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce

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